Tennessee students make huge leap in national rankings

Nov. 08, 2013 @ 11:31 PM

A new report shows Tennessee students are leading the nation in academic growth.

Commonly known as "the nation's report card," the National Assessment of Educational Progress assesses students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. The report released Thursday shows Tennessee students had the largest growth of any state from 2011-2013, with a 22-point growth across all subject areas. The next closest state in growth was Indiana with 15.

For fourth-grade students, Tennessee went from 46th to 37th in math and from 41st to 31st in reading.

State officials say the improvement is partially due to education reforms over the last few years including a tougher teacher evaluation process.

Sevier County Director of Schools Jack Parton said the credit goes to students and educators.

"I am pleased that the performance of students in Tennessee on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has shown significant growth," he said Thursday afternoon, shortly after the news on the state rankings was released.

"Without doubt, I am proud of teachers, administrators, support staff, and parents across Tennessee — particularly those in Sevier County — who work diligently on a daily basis to support student learning.

"Congratulations to each student who demonstrated academic improvement and to each teacher who developed and implemented a challenging instructional program to foster success," Parton said.

The NAEP results show that Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since NAEP started nationwide assessments a decade ago, according to the state.

“These historic gains are a result of years of hard work by a lot of people across Tennessee: our teachers, students, principals, superintendents, parents, lawmakers, school board members, business leaders, and many others,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “As a state we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”

The governor was joined for the announcement by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Wilson County Director of Schools Timothy Setterlund, Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher at Rose Park Magnet Middle School in Nashville, state legislators, business and community leaders, and students, faculty and staff of West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet where the event was held.

"Commonly known as 'the nation’s report card,' NAEP assesses students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math," the state said in a press release. "All 50 states have taken NAEP since 2003, and the results are regarded across the country as the best way to compare educational outcomes across states. Tennessee students’ combined growth on all four tests in 2013 exceeded the growth of all other states."

While the current gubernatorial administration took over in 2011 and claimed recent growth is a result of its aggressive steps to improve education, Democratic opponents claimed the success was in spite of the Haslam administration.

"These gains are a testament to our public school professionals, who are doing a great job, despite continued attacks from this administration,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh in an emailed release sent just minutes after the state's report. “With our public schools on the right path, Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner Huffman need to make sure we stay on the path charted by Governor Bredesen. We can’t get side tracked with sending your tax dollars to private schools and taking away local control from our school boards. That is a recipe for undoing these positive gains.”

The House Democrats claimed a series of laws that Bredesen passed in 2010, allowing Tennessee to win $500 million in federal Race to the Top funds, should be credited for the improvement.

“These results released today show that the reforms passed by Democrats under Governor Bredesen are working,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.